Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce Recipe for Slow Cooker

The Recipe: Homey comfort food, it's the favorite for kids and grown-ups alike. This is my recipe for homemade meat sauce for spaghetti with all the flavor for a fraction of the calories. I make it ahead of time in the slow cooker for convenience and with a pantry's worth of spices for a low-fat and low-calorie healthy supper. Kid friendly!
The Conversation: Remembering Italian suppers hosted by my parents, such exotic world cuisine through my child's eyes!
Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce for the Slow Cooker with Giant Meatballs, another Quick Supper ♥ KitchenParade.com. Low Fat. Low Carb. High Protein. Weight Watchers Friendly.

Parent Parties in the 1960s

When I was a girl, my parents hosted a dinner party for friends, fussing over the food and the table. The theme must have been "Italy" because the menu was classic Italian aka "Eye-talian" as interpreted by Prairie Canadians and Midwesterners who’d no more seen Naples than New York.

(Side note: After this story first went live back in 2010, a note arrived from my 80-something father, a gentle reminder that during World War II, Canadian and Midwestern soldiers were in Italy by the thousands and that Italian military cemeteries hold thousands of those thousands.)

The kitchen table sagged with big platters of spaghetti topped with meat sauce, baskets of garlic bread and a festive (plastic) bowl of (iceberg) lettuce and tomato salad with – little doubt – bottled Italian dressing.

To my widened young eyes, this party was somehow "grown-up entertaining" – a far remove from the familiar "company for Sunday dinner" or "having people over for supper". Oh, it looked so worldly! so chic! oh-so-grown-up! What disappointment when the babysitter corralled all the kids and took us next door for the night.

Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce for the Slow Cooker, another Quick Supper ♥ KitchenParade.com. Low Fat. Low Carb. High Protein. Weight Watchers Friendly.

Concentrated, Assertive Flavor

Nowadays, ha! when just-add-hamburger spaghetti sauce comes cheap in jars, there’s nothing exotic about spaghetti with a meaty tomato sauce. It’s everyday food, inexpensive to make, easy to serve, a household staple.

So many recipes for homemade spaghetti sauce take their flavor from Italian sausage – it works, every time. But Italian sausage adds much fat and many calories, more than is healthful for an everyday meal.

So when I adapted this recipe from Taste of Home, I skipped the Italian sausage itself but kept its spices. Then I let the spaghetti sauce simmer at low temperature for a loooong time, concentrating the flavors. The result is assertive flavor that’s good for you and good to eat. Let’s have a party!

KID FRIENDLY! And there's no reason to send the kids next door for this party. In fact, Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce is one of my go-to kid-friendly recipes. We rarely make separate food for the kids but for Christmas dinner last year, the grown-ups feasted on seafood-thick Lazy Man's Ciopinno while the kids chowed down on spaghetti and meatballs. Everybody was happy!


Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Time to table: 9 hours
Makes 8 cups sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef (see TIPS)
  • 28 ounces canned diced tomatoes
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground fennel (see TIPS)
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooked spaghetti
  • Giant meatballs (recipe adaptation below), optional
  • Chopped parsley, optional

MEAT In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium high until shimmery. Add the onions and garlic as prepped, stirring to coat with fat. Stir in the meat, breaking it apart but still leaving in chunks. Cook, stirring often, until the meat is well-browned, in fact, don't hesitate to let a little "burn" collect on the edges, it's flavor!

SLOW COOKER While the meat cooks, collect the remaining ingredients in a slow cooker. Add the meat. Cover and set on low for 8 hours. If possible, remove the lid for the last hour or so, cooking down the liquid.

TO SERVE Remove the bay leaves, THEN toss some of the tomato-y liquid from the sauce with the cooked spaghetti. Arrange spaghetti on serving plates and top with Meat Sauce. If using, top with Giant Meatball and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS This sauce can definitely be made ahead of time, it reheats beautifully. It freezes well too! I love having a big batch in the freezer for an impromptu Saturday night family gathering!

ALANNA’s TIPS I make this sauce with either ground beef and ground elk. If using ground beef, you may want to drain off any fat that accumulates in the skillet during cooking. Another way to remove fat is to make this a day before serving, refrigerate overnight, then scrape the fat off the top before re-warming to serve. The list of spices is long, for sure. Italian seasoning is a close approximation, but don’t hesitate to keep doctoring until it tastes good. To my taste, the ground fennel is essential, please don't skip it!

ADD GIANT MEATBALLS! We're fiends for tender giant meatballs in tomato sauce at Mia Sorella, our favorite neighborhood hangout. So I adapted my recipe for Finnish Meatballs to make giant meatballs. So good!

Here's how I adapted that recipe. First, substitute Italian-friendly ground fennel for the Scandinavian-typical allspice. Then form large meatballs, about 4 ounces each. Then I heat up the already-cooked Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce and cook the meatballs right there in the sauce in the oven, uncovered at 300F/150C until the meatballs reach 180F/80C, about 2 hours, drizzling the meatballs with sauce occasionally. Soooo good!

NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Half Cup: 117 Calories; 4g Tot Fat; 1g Sat Fat; 35mg Cholesterol; 705mg Sodium; 8g Carb; 2g Fiber; 4g Sugar; 13g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 2 & Points Plus 3 & SmartPoints 3 & Freestyle 2. This recipe has been "Alanna-sized".
Adapted from Taste of Home, Feb-Mar 2009 issue

More Slow Cooker Comfort Food

(hover with a mouse for a description; otherwise click a photo to view the recipe)

Chicken Cacciatore Milk-Braised Pork Roast Slow-Cooked or Slow Cooker Pot Roast
~ more slow cooker recipes ~

Burger ... Beyond Burgers

(hover with a mouse for a description; otherwise click a photo to view the recipe)

Cast Iron Meatloaf Skillet Burgers with Tomato Gravy Hamburger Casserole
~ more hamburger recipes ~

Shop Your Pantry First

(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

~ beef ~
~ elk ~

~ All Recipes, By Ingredient ~
~ How to Save Money on Groceries ~

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017 (repub) & 2019

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. I usually make my own sauce and am always looking for new recipes to try. this will be the next one I make. Also, always use ground fennel in my sauce. can be hard to find, but can always find it in Louisiana.

  2. That was a wonderful experience, and a great recipe!! I remember something like this when I was in Girl Scouts. My mom made burritos for "international night" in the early 1970's. I had never had anything like it before and was amazed by the flavors. It was the most wonderful thing I'd ever eaten! A couple of years later we got our first "Taco Bell", and it became standard "fast food", but to this day, my mom's burritos (however humble!) are the standard to meet. Thanks for such a wonderful post!!


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna